Whakatane locals outraged on government's encouragement of Chinese water bottling investment

Source: 1News

Whakatane locals have been outraged at recent findings that the government actively encouraged a Chinese water bottling company to set up in the town.

The Chinese company is seeking to take just over a billion litres of water a year from Otakiri springs.

Community groups are now appealing the consent application, funding the battle against China's biggest water bottler themselves, only to find out the government convinced Nong Fu to be there in the first place.

"Why? Why would they do that? That's so irresponsible," said campaigner Mawera Karetai.

The company's application to the overseas investment office, obtained under the Official Information Act, explains it was actively encouraged to buy the water bottling plant by New Zealand, stating, "NZTE indicated the investment would be welcome."

Nong Fu further warned refusing consent of this would likely affect New Zealand's image overseas.

The company explained that local trading enterprise staff from China and Auckland brokered the introduction between Nong Fu and Otakiri springs, the chairman himself, Zhong Shanshan traveled all the way to meet NZTE staff.

The land purchase was then approved by Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage in June.

"Well we were surprised, we hadn't realised and I don't think anyone had realised the extent to which the government was encouraging water bottling or water mining as an integral part of New Zealand's economic strategy," said Aotearoa Water Action's lawyer, Peter Richardson.

"The rest of the world is struggling with dried up aquifers. Why would they do that to us. That's insane," said Mr Karetai.

MP David Parker's office pointed out that the actions of Trade and Enterprise in this case occurred under the previous government.

"Well it's embarrassing for them, I mean, I think the government is well aware that this isn't an industry that's popular in New Zealand so I think there's a certain degree of embarrassment. They wanted to keep it under the cover," said Mr Richardson.

In a statement today, NZTE explained the final decision lies with the regulator, which is the Overseas Investment Office, and confirmed that Trade and Enterprise did initiate the contact with Nong Fu Springs.

Letters obtained under the Official Information Act reveal the frustration of Nong Fu lawyers who had waited almost two years for the decision and wanted to hurry it through before the election.

"It looks like they kicked it to touch to an extent on the incoming government," said Mr Richardson.

While Nong Fu Spring waits for its bottling application to go through the appeal process, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council granted another company approval to take surface water from around Hamurana springs last week.